When was the last time you sat in the moment and genuinely felt grateful?
I'm not talking about that cheesy evangelical-with-a-Starbucks-quiet-time Instagram kinda stuff.
I'm talking pausing in the middle of the night and marveling at how fragile and delicate life is.
A practice I picked up within the last few months is the art of writing down what I am grateful for every night.
I have someone I call every night as part of a spiritual accountability self-care routine. We both share bare details about our day and then we offer each other's concerns up in prayer. We also hold each other accountable.
Something he challenged me to was picking up a journal and writing about the small things I'm grateful for.
I noticed, as time went by, I went from small stuff to big stuff.
The things I thought I shouldn't be grateful for ended up being things that I thanked God for happening, because of the person I became on the other end of it all.
One of my favorite Bob Dylan songs is about just that feeling. It's called "Every Grain of Sand", and it's a song I once used as a sermon illustration when I ministered in small town Wisconsin.
"I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey, I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand."
He wrote that about three years after his conversion experience. He was reflecting on his poorer and better choices that led him there. Perhaps from his own divorce six years earlier to his intense exploration of religion to that very moment. Some consider it to be his masterpiece. It will always be a personal favorite of mine.
It's about that King David moment we read about where he looks up at the sky and wonders why God cares about humanity.
It's about that feeling we have whenever we finish something we thought we would never do, or perhaps hold someone we care for and realize how blessed we are to be alive.
In our world today, especially in the United States, we are surrounded by distractions. We very rarely confront ourselves with the idea that God is all around us, and wants us to experience what it means to be alive fully.
When I started taking faith seriously about eleven years ago, I remember literally being filled with a gratitude that life is beautiful and second chances are possible. I could care less about what happened to me after I died - in that moment, I felt genuinely free. I had no reason to feel that. I was a dropout and had no future plans of any kind. I hate using the term "born again" since that term has been so abused, but there is really no other way to describe it.
It's that memory that comes to mind whenever I need to pause and reflect. Am I appreciating life like I did that day? If not, why not?
When we think about the Gospel, I think we accidentally limit it when we focus on one aspect of it over everything else. It's not only what happens to us after we pass on or when the world comes to an end. It's about learning to experience God now too. What I love about the tradition I find myself in is that it encompasses all of these things into one package, leading me to a more Christlike posture.
The point of it, friends, in so many words: it's always good to have an attitude check, and to make sure our spiritual posture is in a healthy place.
And sometimes, that healthy place is bitter and it makes you want to flip off the sky.
That's okay too.
Just know God is there with you, and you will see the other side of it some day. You can practice gratitude when that storm is over. Nothing ruins positivity quite like toxic positivity. There's a difference between that and this practice.
So with that, I leave you all with some Dylan to enjoy and hopefully an invitation to reflect. Start being grateful for the small stuff, and you'll be amazed about what you're grateful for later.